I began my professional career in higher education at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Ft. Worth, Texas. The first project I worked on was the development of an incoming student retreat program that we ultimately named, “Frog Camp” (TCU’s mascot is the Horned Frog). The camp was a four-day, three-night retreat to a nearby camp. At the camp, students were grouped into “Frog Groups” of ten-twelve students and partnered with a member of TCU’s staff or faculty and two upper-class student leaders. Over the days ahead, students went through low and high element challenge courses together, learned about TCU’s history, traditions, and spirit, shared their hopes, challenges, and dreams with each other, and generally had a great time together. By the time they returned to TCU, they had a close group of friends, a strong connection with at least one member of the faculty or staff, a connection to two upper class student leaders, and an emerging identity as a “Horned Frog.” Frankly, we were surprised by the enthusiasm and energy accruing to the program and even more surprised by its impact on retention. In its fourth year, participation in Frog Camp was second only to fraternity/sorority life in its impact on whether students returned to TCU for their second year.
Consider this: at TCU, students involved in a fraternity or sorority had a first to second year retention of nearly 92%. Students attending Frog Camp and in a fraternity or sorority were retained at a rate of 94%. Students only attending Frog Camp were retained at 90% and students who did neither were retained at a rate of 68%. These results are compelling and suggest that students stay in college and graduate when they wouldn’t dare to leave college because their experience, friends, and involvements have become so important to them.
In my opinion, colleges all over the United States spend thousands asking departing students why they are leaving. While these students may be able to offer reasons, I believe that they are, in most cases, leaving because nothing happened to them while they were there that made it unthinkable that they would ever leave.
My Frog Camp experience has forever colored my thinking about retention and it illustrates the immediate importance of helping your student identify and execute means to get involved and connected as quickly as possible through immersive experiences that connect them to others and their college.
Join us next time as we look a little more deeply at the profound impact of campus involvement on student success and identify some options to help your student get connected.
About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them. College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas.